So this happened:  A kid wrote “ching chong” on my white board today.  This happened sometime between the end of 5th period and the start of 6th period.  I have no idea who it was, it very well could have been a kid I don’t even teach.  I am half Chinese and half Swiss/Norwegian/Sweedish. I’ve heard all the slurs and seen all the fake “slanty eyes”.  I’ve been told from other Asians that I’m not Asian enough and I’ve been told from other Whites that I’m not White enough.

My initial thoughts were mostly benign, as in “I better erase that before it becomes distracting to the kids”.  But as I thought about it more, I started to get more and more emotional about it.  It was a teachable moment, and I decided to try and work with it.  I pointed it out to the kids, and started to explain why the slur was hurtful to me.  Then the worst thing happened – my emotions got the best of me and I started to cry.  I’ve never once cried in front of students (see this old post).  I’ve always been able to hold it together long enough for a break.  Evidently, this racial slur really dug deep into me.  My 6th period was sympathetic, empathetic and really listened to why seeing his slur hurt me.  A kid jumped up an erased it, and just listened.  Even as I cried and spoke from my heart to my kids, I recognized that who ever wrote the slur probably didn’t do it maliciously. In fact, the kid probably doesn’t even recognize it as a hateful racial slur.

I work at a racially segregated school, 81% of our students are Latino.  I am one of 4 Asians in the building.  Their exposure to Asian Americans are limited to what they see on TV and other popular culture which are full of stereotypes.  They exist in a bubble without exposure to diversity.  In addition, our school as a whole does not dedicate any time or energy towards ethnic studies, cultural sensitivity or social justice.  It does happen in individual classes – namely history classes – but there is no school wide focus.  Honoring, celebrating and learning from different cultures just has not been a priority.  So I’m going to try and create some change on that front this coming semester.  Literally, in the first weeks of school, I get asked hourly “where are you from. No really, where are you from?“.

Where am I from?  I’m from 37˚44’N, 122˚26’W:  San Francisco.  Coincidentally, I got a new tattoo of just that this past weekend.

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The rest of my outfit I photographed during lunch, before I became a mess.  Layers are key as a teacher.  I strip down to one layer while the room is full of teenagers and I’m running around teaching (sweating).  But then the kids leave taking their body heat with then so I cozy up during prep periods when my room turns freezing.

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coat and sweater: uniqlo – top: f21 – jeans, boots and bracelets: madewell – belt: gap – necklace: family heirloom

6 thoughts on “Language

  1. Not that it will help much, Erika, but please accept an apology for all the ignorant, bigoted Trumps in this world. Sadly, there are entirely way too many of them.

    Joe

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  2. I don’t know you except through this blog, but your story touched my heart. I’m white, but my cousins are Hungarian, Belgian, Filipino, & Chinese. They’ve encountered everything from curiosity to flat out racism (one cousin was dropped from her study group at UC Berkeley when her “friends” realized after a semester together that she’s not Indian, my other cousin missed a connecting flight at the airport while being hassled by security about “looking Paki”. I don’t know what it will take to change the hearts & minds of America, but your honesty, vulnerability & willingness to show your students you “have a life” and even (gasp!) feelings-I’m sure reached the hearts & minds of some of your students today! That lesson today may have been the most important one you taught all year.

    And I will say too, your outfit was really very cute. I’ve never been into fashion, which is a shame because I could have had a lot more fun in my self conscious 20s, but I’ve suddenly discovered clothes @ age 47 & your blog has helped me actually experiment:). Mostly figuring out how to take what I already have & wear it in different combinations:)

    Carry on & thanks for the blog, I always enjoy new entries!💜

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  3. Hello. I found your blog because I am a nurse educator working in a business casual dress setting- and I am trying to navigate that after 20 years of bedside nursing wearing uniforms that were essentially pajamas.
    Your post resonates with me because my 3 children attend public elementary school in a NYC suburb that is primarily black/African/carribean American. They are the only white kids in the school. My daughter has long straight hair like yours and the kids pull it all the time. I don’t think it’s bullying so much as curiosity because she does not have African hair or “ethnic” hair like they do. Sometimes I think kids are testing boundaries, trying to find out how bad a bad word is or how much they can push a teacher. I am sorry their insensitive comment affected your day and surprised- San Francisco is pretty large diverse cosmopolitan city, don’t these kids know we are in America and everyone is a melting pot? I just wanted to say that the first thing I noticed when I saw your blog pictures was YOU. That you were a tall girl with long dark hair that can rock skinny jeans at work and maybe I can learn from your style. (1st step – I do acknowledge I need help!) I will check back again. Thank you for having the courage to write about the language thing- and take pictures of your outfits!

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  4. Authentic transparency, those moments when students see us as human, can be such a powerful teaching opportunity. My guess is that your 6th period students took a lesson from this experience that will stick with them long after the other details of high school have faded. Kudos to you for letting them see your vulnerability. I know that isn’t easy.

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  5. I found your blog today and I’m glad I did.

    I understand what you are going through. I am a multiracial teacher in a building/school district with zero diversity. It’s tough to be the only person of color. I am often asked to be the spokesperson of an entire race.

    I’m sad a student wrote that racial slur on your whiteboard. You shouldn’t have to deal with such insensitivity. I am glad you allowed your students to see how racism affected you. Those boys and girls learned a powerful lesson that day. I hope I’ll changed each and every one of them for the better. I also hope people who stumble across your blog will understand the pain that racism brings.

    By the way, your style is fabulous.

    xxoo,
    Monica

    Liked by 1 person

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